When I first started playing professionally in an orchestra many years ago, some interesting things happened. Life was a little different than I had imagined before that. Everyone’s experience is different; what happened in mine back then was, first of all, the job was a different experience than I expected. I had imagined musical excitement every day – what a dream to get to play music for a living! Well, sometimes. A good bit of it was, after a while anyway, pretty routine. A small part of it was sheer terror. But that part is not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about the other thing that started happening back then…
News, views, rhythm n blues gleaned from a quick blog tour…
Pip Eastop (creative London superhornist) hates the harmonic minor scale. He finds it pointless and recommends that it be stricken from exams. He favors the jazz minor scale, which is the ascending melodic minor scale that does not lower steps 6 and 7 when descending. This scale is very handy for improvising since it doesn’t change anything descending; also, there is only one note different from the major scale (1 2 b3 4 5 6 7 vs 1 2 3 4 5 6 7). I mostly agree. The notes of the harmonic minor scale (1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7) are useful in improvising, but not as an octave scale. In either composing or improvising, you use the b6 to turn around at 5. The b6 leads down, not up – it makes not a lot of sense to use it to ascend in the usual harmonic minor scale. The 7 does the same thing at 1. Your ear wants a 7 instead of a b7 to turn around at 1 (1 7 1). Now: if you’re descending from 1 down to 5, say, the b7 and b6 make sense. They sound just fine. If you’re using the jazz minor scale (6 and 7 both directions) consistently, the ear gets used to hearing the unflatted descending 6 and 7. Also: there are some scales that use the augmented 2nd interval, most b2 to 3 (e.g. Spanish Phrygian or Klezmer: 1 b2 3 4 5 b6 b7; Middle Eastern: 1 b2 3 4 5 b6 7) where that wide interval is used melodically to evoke that exotic flavor, but for normal Western/tonal improvisation – jazz or contemporary classical – I agree with Pip that the harmonic minor is an artificial construct without much use that simply shows you are familiar with that collection of pitches. In combat conditions (improvising or composing) you should be able to inflect the 6 and 7 any way you want to match what you hear your melodic line doing.
Another thing comes to mind on the subject of scale proficiency exams. What if… instead of testing the artificial – octave scales – we tested – for want of a better word – music? That is, the ability to use any version of minor in a musical situation. Testing one (or two or three) octave scales are of very limited use to either practice much or in exams. It doesn’t tell you much. It’s a very superficial way of knowing a scale. What about all the other ways you can arrange the scale? I don’t care if you can find your way up and back. I want to know what you can do with a scale. I don’t need to hear Flight of the Bumblebee. But I would like to hear that you can think in music and use the scale appropriately to some degree.
Here’s your new scale proficiency exam: Picture this: a woman in a red dress stares at a crescent moon at 3 a.m. A solitary tear slides down her cheek. She has just lost the love of her life. Now: draw a card at random: Ab minor. Now, using any form of minor scale that you wish, make up a 2 minute piece depicting that scene, built mainly around that scale. You pick the tempo (hint: slow is fine). The piece should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It should have unity and variety. It should have some recognizable (or better, memorable) melodic motifs that are developed in the course of the improvisation. Add a brief coda at the end.
Now that would tell me if you really know your scales. I wouldn’t care if you missed a note here or there if you created a strong, memorable line and did some interesting things. Something expressive, something that communicates thought and feeling. Right now all we seem to care about in exams is mindless rote perfection of things that seldom or never show up in actual music (ever seen a two octave scale in a piece for horn?).
Dr. Noa Kageyama has some great advice on audition prep and mental toughness for musicians.
Richard Kessler concludes a series of arts on Getting the Best High School Arts Education in Dewey21C.
The lead current article in Entrepreneur the Arts is “The Long Wait of ‘Artistic’ Careers” by Peter Spellman of Berklee College of Music.
James Boldin’s Hornworld blog always has something interesting. The latest post calls attention to a recent doctoral dissertation by Margaret Tung on Dale Clevenger.
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. Normally graduation speakers speak at graduation, but we here at Horninsights have a different tradition: we give you your graduation speech on your first day of graduate school. We find that it reduces the occurrence of the moment that happens some time after graduation where you smack your forehead and say, “Man, I wish I would have known that before I graduated.” So, without further ado, here are the Horninsights Insights into what to keep in mind as you wend your way through these last years of formal musical training. Takes notes; there will be a quiz after class. Note: we do apologize for some of the points, which might seem blindingly obvious, but which, we have learned, are not always obvious to everyone.
1. Get really good on your instrument.
You never know where or when an idea for a post is going to pop up. In this case, it was from an article from Wired.com entitled “Why Money Makes You Unhappy” by Jonah Lehrer (I think I prefer the saying, “Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure quiets your nerves”).
Lehrer says that once you’re out of poverty that how rich you are has little to do with how happy you are or how satisfied you are with life. The phrase “experience-stretching hypothesis” comes from Daniel Gilbert and says, in essence, that too much of a good thing reduces – even kills – the pleasure we once took in something when we only had a little of it. Food tastes best to a hungry man; one who is satiated finds little interest in even one bite of gourmet cooking.
When you work in a chocolate factory, they let you eat all you want, knowing that after the first week you won’t want to so much as look at a Hershey’s Kiss after that.
Lehrer cites the Amish, who live life very simply but who record very high levels of happiness. He compares them with modern consumers who chase after the latest car or electronic gadget but who aren’t any the happier for it.
It made me think about a life in music. In my early days of being completely committed to music study, I was ravenous for every bit of music experience. I couldn’t get up early enough, practice late enough, couldn’t wait until tomorrow to start all over again. Even after I got my orchestra job – dream of a lifetime fulfilled! – I still kept at it; I even practiced during orchestra breaks, for years. I was buffaloed by the attitude of a lot of the older players who had been at it for decades. They barely seemed interested in music at all. During breaks they talked about their new sailboat or car, not Mozart or Beethoven. When I came back from a week at a brass workshop, not a single person had any interest in my experience there. I declared I would never be like them.
What do weddings, funerals, football games, and graduations all have in common? Did you ever consider that landmark events in life are almost always accompanied by music? Indeed, are inconceivable with music to frame and highlight the festive occasion, and provide ambience? They are all also meat-and-potatoes nonsymphony opportunities for musicians to perform, and perhaps earn another payment on their instruments while bringing joy and delight to the celebraters, a real win-win situation.
Weddings provide the most frequent chance to play as a soloist (solo or with piano or organ accompaniment). What to play? Very often the bride (and occasionally the groom) will have definite ideas about what she wants played at her wedding. This could be just about anything, but usually the choice is fairly predictable. The ideal wedding solo will have a beautiful and probably well-known melody that lies in a comfortable range so that 1) you don’t have to spend months or even weeks working on it; 2) a wedding requires a number of tunes, and the ideal tune should not tire you out; and 3) this “comfortable” tune thus guarantees you a high rate of scratch-free success to make and keep everyone happy (you may be playing for people who, like most people, listen much more to CDs than live performances, and the guy on the CD never misses…).
“Evansville’s [Indiana] own Tales & Scales is an innovative ensemble that exists to ignite, nurture, and fully engage the imaginations of young people through Musictelling. Since its inception in 1986, Tales & Scales has commissioned and performed original productions for over one million young people in schools, libraries, community centers, performing arts centers and with symphony orchestras.”
“Tales & Scales (www.talesandscales.org) is the nation’s only musictelling ensemble. Since 1986, our troupe of musicians has collaborated with outstanding composers, writers, directors and choreographers to create innovative interdisciplinary works in our mission to ignite, nurture, and fully engage the imaginations of young people. Using minimal sets and costumes, our uniquely-talented performers combine music, story, theatre and dance in their dynamic presentations. Based in Evansville, Indiana, the company maintains a full-time schedule giving performances, workshops, residencies, and an annual summer camp to approximately 50,000 young people each year. We tour locally, regionally, and nationally to schools, libraries, community centers, performing arts centers, and with symphony orchestras.”
We are seeking skilled and talented musicians with:
– Experience in both performing for and working with children (arts education background a plus, but not necessary)
– A desire to explore unique interdisciplinary performance techniques and improvisation
– Strong convictions about the importance of arts education
– Strong communication skills & ability to work as a team member in achieving company mission & goals
– The ability to commit to rigorous training, rehearsal, and a full time touring schedule
– The ability to relocate to Evansville, Indiana and commence work immediately
– Starting Salary $20,000/year
– Two weeks paid vacation plus 12 paid holidays
– Health, Life and optional Dental Benefits
– Tour expenses (hotel, travel, per diem) paid by company.
– LOCATION: Evansville, Indiana
– DATES: To be determined, based on candidate’s earliest availability. Auditions will be by appointment only & will continue until the position is filled.
– After receipt of application materials and pre-audition phone call, audition dates & times will be assigned, in consultation with candidate.
SEND RESUME as soon as possible to firstname.lastname@example.org
(Applications will be considered in the order received & will be accepted until position is filled.)
Please include: 3 references with current contact information; any experience working with young people, any experience/training in dance, theater, storytelling, improvisation, or additional performance skills; & any secondary instruments you play. If available, please provide video/audio samples of your work (emailed links preferred).